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Nov 13, 2008


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Rachel Barenblat

This is a fabulous post. (FYI, for mysterious reasons it hasn't appeared in my blog aggregator...)

It has seemed to me also that many of those who call for reform in Islam are in fact calling for a Reform Islam movement which might resemble Reform Judaism, so I'm intrigued to see you make that assertion.

I'm intrigued also by your point about the challenges of using "orthodox" as a descriptor. This is a challenge within the liberal (read: non-Orthodox) Jewish world as well. It does seem to me that most of the time when we talk about Jewish "Orthodoxy," we're really talking about orthopraxis. One could make the case that historically Judaism has been more concerned with practice than with belief. (Though Maimonides did articulate a set of 13 articles of faith which have been fairly mainstream for the last eight hundred years or so. That's a digression, though. :-)

You mention that it is the Orthodox who govern matters of family law. One of the significant differences between Jewish life in Israel and Jewish life in the Diaspora is that in Israel the Orthodox rabbinate has the legal and religious right to determine correct practice; whereas here in the Diaspora, it's much more common for there to be a shared understanding that different communities follow different norms. (Which is not to say that there aren't different communal norms in Israel too -- but the state religion is clearly Orthodoxy, and other forms of Judaism are relatively disenfranchised there.) This plays out in the family law arena in all kinds of ways. For instance, a Reform rabbi cannot perform a wedding in Israel (not in a way which will be legally recognized). So: yes, it is true that the Orthodox govern matters of family law in Israel, and within Orthodox communities here the same holds, but for communities of American Jews who aren't a part of Orthodoxy, the question of halakha (the legal tradition) and whose authority is binding becomes a much more complicated question.

You're absolutely right that the Jewish denominations have their seat in Europe -- in Ashkenaz rather than Sefarad. And that has an impact on how we understand our community and the divisions within it. Studying both Maimonides and ibn Rushd right now is making me hyper-conscious of the extent to which the religious and cultural picture in Spain differed from the picture in, say, Poland...

Your interest in Hasidism makes perfect sense to me. Law +, yes -- there's the desire to balance strict adherence to the law with constant mindfulness of connection with God. In its purest/highest forms, I see some common ground with what I know of Sufi tradition. (Note that Jewish Renewal, the transdenominational movement of which I am a part, has its roots in Hasidism and has strong connections now with certain Sufi teachers, which may influence how readily that analogy leaps to mind for me...)

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